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NATO makes the right call on Sweden, Finland in a big, bold move

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What a loss for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Finland and Sweden just shed decades of cherished neutrality to join NATO, and the allies — including Turkey — said yes. 

Pause with me for a moment and grasp what an astonishing change this is for Finland and Sweden. While both have been close NATO partners for years, training and even deploying forces alongside NATO missions, both nations made U-turns in their foreign policy. Sweden has not joined an alliance or fought in a war since 1814. You read that right. Citizens of Finland and Sweden did not want to join NATO six months ago, but now they do. 

Putin’s aggression and the reality of modern war made it urgent for Finland and Sweden to become full members of NATO. In this era of cyber attacks and Russian air and missile strikes, deterrence has to be in place from the start. Tough talk, intelligence leaks, and sanctions threats did not stop Putin from invading Ukraine.  Only a true alliance can guarantee safety.

TURKEY LIFTS OPPOSITION TO FINLAND, SWEDEN JOINING NATO

Joining NATO brings Finland and Sweden into a common air defense picture, extends NATO’s cyber resilience capabilities, and the NATO nuclear deterrence guarantee is included, too. 

A Ukrainian multiple rocket launcher BM-21 "Grad" shells a Russian troop position near Luhansk in the Donbas region on Sunday. (Photo by ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s a good step for NATO. Finland adds 830 more miles of border, sewing up a NATO barrier against Russia from Istanbul to the Arctic Circle and beyond. Finland, pop. 5.5 million, brings a top-notch Air Force, an army that expands up to 900,000, and the largest reserve of artillery in Europe. Word is they have more ammo than pine trees up there. Don’t forget they are world leaders in communications technology. 

Sweden was officially neutral in World War I, World War II and kept up its defenses and stayed non-aligned through the Cold War. But they have long been a defense industry powerhouse, and Sweden’s military has specialized experience with the Arctic and undersea domains. They are building new combat aircraft from their successful Gripen series and deploying more submarines. Sweden reinforced the strategic island of Gotland earlier this year and allocated more funds for military infrastructure and naval operations. 

Don’t think for one moment that Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership because they are scared of Russia. Nope, they’ve lived in that neighborhood a long time. And of course, Finland won a moral victory against the Russians of the Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939. In fact, they invented Molotov cocktails — makeshift gasoline bottle bombs thrown at tanks — during that war. 

I think it’s more accurate to say they are disgusted with Putin, his illegal invasion, and his brutality, like the air and missile strikes launched against 40 targets in Ukraine on June 26. Harassing Russian military flights in Sweden’s airspace didn’t help. What’s the point of non-alignment when the other camp contains a thug like Putin? 

Finland, Sweden and NATO have sent a message to Putin: the good guys are adding teammates. The same message goes to China, still backing Russia.

As for Turkey (which recently changed its national spelling to Turkiye), this is a good time to get military cooperation back on track. Credit goes to Finland and Sweden for working out a trilateral arrangement with Turkey to enable unanimous NATO approval. As a result, I’d like to see Turkey back in line to buy F-35 fighter jets and return their pilots to the joint F-35 training. As Gen. Dwight Eisenhower knew when NATO was formed, Turkey is the bulwark of NATO’s southern flank, misbehaving or not. 

Why? Two words: Bosporus Straits.

Turkey controls all NATO access from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea through this critical waterway, which is narrower than the Hudson River around Manhattan at key points. For example, if NATO ever wants to bust that Black Sea blockade of Ukraine’s grain ports by Russia, warships must transit the Bosporus.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on the country’s transport industry via a video link in Sochi, Russia May 24, 2022.  (Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.)

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Finally, Finland and Sweden’s choice should put to rest the myth that a thriving NATO in any way justifies Putin’s callous actions. It’s bonkers to blame NATO’s acceptance of new members for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Most new member states joined NATO when Russia was actually part of the Group of Seven, briefly renamed the G8, from 1997 to 2014. It was a period when NATO leaders tried their best to treat Russia as a normal, European power and help Putin choose prosperity instead of plunder. I’m tired of Washington analysts talking about how Putin “felt” when NATO got bigger. The atrocities committed by Russian forces at Bucha and elsewhere should have vaporized that sentiment.

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The next step is for NATO’s parliaments to ratify the treaty update. NATO will then have 32 members, making this North Atlantic Treaty Organization founded in 1949 the most successful alliance in world history.  NATO and its friends are the best hope of the world.  Welcome, Finland and Sweden. 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM REBECCA GRANT 

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